“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”
- Thomas Jefferson
This advice holds true, not only in real life,but also in your characters lives. We often wonder how we can make our story people or heroes and our heroines more true to life.
There are any number of methods for building a character. There is the ever reliable character interview, where we ‘question’ our story people and find out everything –useful or not–from what is their favorite kind of ice cream to what is in their pockets.
From the first day I started writing I was offered at least ten ways to build a character, to really get to know him…or her. But none of the suggested methods worked for me. Let’s face it I don’t care what’s in my own pockets, much less what resides in the pockets of others, real or imaginary.
But then I realized I have the perfect test for defining what is true character. Now I’m not talking about character profile, who a person is, say a teacher who is nurturing but anal retentive. I’m addressing what a person will do when under extreme pressure.
Let’s say your character is a fashion model who is late for a photo shoot. She makes big bucks, let’s say about $800 per hour. She knows she needs to be prompt and ready to go when she’s scheduled to work, especially at those prices. Today she really needs the money. She has personal commitments that drain her bank account at every opportunity, perhaps a needy family. They have health issues and no insurance.
Now let’s say on her way to the photo shoot when she witnesses an auto accident. Perhaps a school bus is involved. Small children, maybe 1st graders who cannot exit the bus for whatever reason. They need help. Will she pull over when she sees the bus driver is unconscious? What if the bus catches on fire? Does she stop? Does she miss her opportunity to make several thousand dollars, which she needs for her own family or does she stop to help complete strangers?
What she does next determines her character.
Actions always speak louder than words.
When your character acts in subtle or specific ways, she shows us her character, every time. Her motivation and the difficulty of the choices she is forced to make determine who she is in real life. You only want real life characters in your story.